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WIT Life #27: Reinventing Valentine’s Day

WITLife is a periodic series written by professional Interpreter/Translator/Writer Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken, 2000-03). Recently she’s been watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese and sharing some of the interesting tidbits and trends together with her own observations.


In the midst of the economic slump and the fact that Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday this year, Japan’s chocolate companies are really stretching the meaning of the holiday. Because it will not be celebrated on a weekday, they will be losing the lucrative income from “Giri Choco” (obligation chocolate) which is customarily given by females to the males in their office. In order to make up for this, several innovations have taken place.

Chocolate companies are anticipating that many families will be spending V- Day together with “sugomori” or nesting, much like was seen over New Years. In preparation for this, new flavors such as strawberry and marshmallow were designed and fondue chocolate along with a special pot to go with it are being sold to provide families with unique ways to enjoy the holiday. This fondue set is retailing for 17,000 yen.

Another interesting twist is the reinterpretation of what V-Day in Japan means. Previously, it was a time for women to give chocolate to men they either really liked (Hon Choco) (real chocolate) or were obligated to give it to (Giri Choco), such as male bosses or colleagues. However, the industry is now going American-style, saying “Why not consider the reverse? Let’s have men declare their love for women as well!” In order to replace the sales they will be missing this year, they invented Gyaku Choco (opposite chocolate).

Whereas before only women would shower men with sweet gifts on V-Day, now men are being encouraged to do the same. In order to have them be comfortable with buying Gyaku Choco, many department stores are placing it near suits and other men’s apparel, billing it as a “Gyaku Choco Fair.” The really neat thing about this chocolate’s packaging is that the lettering is printed in reverse, in order to truly give the effect of being “gyaku”! It is surprising that this tactic which should double their sales has not been tried before by chocolate makers in similarly troubling economic times. Gotta love the unlimited potential of commercialization! Incidentally, despite his flailing popularity rate, Prime Minister Aso has already received 240 Valentine support messages with chocolate.

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